This spring thousands of hunters will slip into the woods in pursuit of one of nature’s most elusive game animals: the tom turkey. These bearded birds have so many advantages over us — better hearing, more perceptive vision, and instinctive knowledge of the woods — it’s not terribly surprising how often hunters come home empty-handed. Shotguns, turkey calls, camouflage, and other gear don’t quite even the odds.
Birds in general have the most complex retina of all vertebrates. The wild turkey has outstanding perceptive vision, as much as 3 times better than 20/20. His retina has a special photoreceptor that lets a turkey see ultraviolet light (UVA). This is trouble for hunters who wash their camo with modern laundry detergent, which contains artificial brighteners (phosphates) that glow like a bright blue neon sign on the UV spectrum.
The turkey’s peripheral vision is another advantage. Like many prey animals, his eyes are on the sides of the head, giving them a 270 degree field of vision compared to our 180. They can also rotate their neck completely for a 360-degree view. Interestingly, the eye position offers little in the way of 3D perception. This is why turkeys bob their heads forward and back; it provides some depth perception.